Benz X-Class X250d double-cab ute: first drive

By: Matt Raudonikis


Mercedes-Benz’s new X-Class ute is a lot more than just a Nissan Navara with a flash grille tacked on to it

 

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Mercedes Benz’s X-Class double-cab ute will arrive in Australian showrooms in April 2018 but we’ve had a first drive of it in the hills outside of Santiago de Chile.

Like Australia, Chile is seen as a key market for the new premium 1-tonne medium size pick-up truck along with South Africa, other South American nations, Europe and Russia.

The US is not on Benz’s radar for the X-Class.


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As was reported, it will come to market in a choice of three grades, with three engine options, and with either a part-time or full-time 4-wheel drive systems depending on the engine selected.

Only a double-cab body style will be offered and but both traditional ute and cab-chassis cargo areas will be available.

With this line-up, Mercedes Benz Vans hopes to have the premium ute market covered.

The range will start with a base, ‘tradie-spec’ Pure variant distinguished by its 17-inch steel wheels, unpainted black bumpers, standard air conditioning, vinyl covered floors and basic equipment.

It will only be available with the base 120kW four-cylinder diesel engine and six-speed manual gearbox as the X220d but in the 140kW x250d guise, it will have the choice of manual or seven-speed auto transmissions.

Next level is the Progressive specification with adds 17-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, carpeted floors, black cloth covered seats, Garmin sat-nav and other convenience features including the Audio 20 sound system with seven-inch display screen.

This mid-spec model is expected to appeal to family and recreational use buyers.

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ENGINE

X-Class Progressive is available as the X250d 140kW engine with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission.

There is a host of option packages available to add features such as climate control a/c, LED headlights, improved audio and navigation systems and 18-inch alloys.

The top-specification X-Class is the Power and adds a chrome trim under the body-coloured bumper, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, Artico man-made leather seats and dash trim, dual-zone climate control, COMAND infotainment system, eight-speaker audio, and keyless entry among its many standard  features.

The Power variant will initially be only offered as the X250d with the 140kW diesel engine and a choice of manual or auto transmissions, but from the middle of 2018 will also be offered with a 190kW V6 diesel engine, seven-speed auto and dual-range, full-time 4-wheel drive system.

The four-cylinder powered models all come with a dual-range part-time 4x4 system that is conventional for this style of ute.

The full-time system allows the vehicle to operate in all-wheel drive all of the time for improved dynamics and safety on all road surfaces.

The four-cylinder engines are both the Nissan-Renault 2.3-litre diesel, tuned to either 120kW and 403Nm with a single turbocharger in the X220d, or 140kW and 450Nm with a bi-turbo arrangement in the X250d models.

This is the same power train as found in the current Nissan Navara with which the X-Class share its basic platform.

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The leading X350d will have a Mercedes-Benz V6 engine making class leading 190kW of power and 550Nm of torque when it arrives later in the year. Its seven speed auto transmission also comes from Mercedes-Benz and will feature column mounted paddle shifters.

Dynamic Select will also be a part of the X350d offering a selection of driving modes to best suit the conditions.

These range from Comfort mode, through to Eco, Sport, Manual, and Off-road modes.

INTERIOR

Climb inside the X-Class and any connections to the Navara are soon lost.

The interior is all Mercedes-Benz with instruments and other hardware taken from the company’s V and C-Class models and integrated in to a bespoke dash and door panels.

About the only compromise you can see from the shared platform is the placement of the HVAC control which are located low in the center stack where they are not as easy to operate as they should be.

The interior of the X-Class Pure reminds you that this is a vehicle from Mercedes-Bens Vans division as its basic features, vinyl floors and hard surfaces are very work truck-like.

At the other end of the range, the Power’s cabin feels more aligned with the brand’s passenger cars with plush carpets, stitched leather dash, power seats and comprehensive audio/infotainment systems.

It’s this differentiation between the models that displays the breadth of applications that the X-Class has been designed to cover. 

Driving the X250d in power specification and you realise that Benz has done a thorough job in re-engineering the donor vehicle to make it its own. 

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The cabin feels luxurious by comparison and the refinement is a world away from that of the Nissan. It is well isolated from road noise and the usually gruff four-cylinder diesel engine.

The hydraulically-assisted power steering is on-par with other 1-tonne utes in terms of feel and directness but the Nissan has never been great in this regard and this is one area where we hoped Mercedes-Benz might have improved the vehicle.

SUSPENSION

The suspension however is a great leap forward as it better soaks up bumps and undulations and keeps the vehicle pinned through sweeping on road bends and controlled on broken and off road terrain.

Notably, the multi-link coil rear suspension is well behaved and predictable. Mercedes Benz put a lot of work in to the spring and dampener calibration to optimise the wider wheel track of the X-Class over the Nissan vehicle.

Mounting points and bushes are also revised to improve dynamics and reduce NVH and the Germans have been successful here.

The suspension instantly put the X-Class up there as one of the best handling 1-tonne utes in the segment however we’ll have to wait until a direct comparision with the VW Amarok is possible to see just how good it is.

Initial impressions are that the VW will still have the edge over its German countryman.

The 450Nm bi-turbo Nissan engine remains a strong performer with plenty of grunt available through its range and the 7-speed auto is slick and direct.

It is much more palatable in the refined X250d Power than it is in the Navara however we were disappointed to find that gruffness back again when we drove an X250d in Progressive specification with the manual gearbox.

The mid-spec Progressive doesn’t get the same level of insulation as the Power and, although not a deal breaker, it takes away much of the appeal of paying a premium for a prestige marque when it doesn’t deliver in full.

The Progressive spec could be the most popular here in Australia but that will very much come down to how it is priced both against its competition from other marques as well as the high-spec X-Class Power.

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GEARBOX

The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and simple in its operation. Mercedes-Benz adapted a cable shifter linkage to the box to remove the shifter from a direct mount to the ’box.

This in turn reduces vibration to the cabin although it also isolates the driver from the vehicle which not everyone appreciates.

The vehicle we drove had a whine from the gearbox in top gear but it must be said that this was a pre-production engineering car so we’ll need to wat until we drive the final product to see if it is a genuine problem.

Australian pricing for X-Class is yet to be revealed but it is expected before the end of 2017 ahead of its April 2018 launch here.

We say that prices for the X220d and X250d variants will need to be close to those of other utes already in the market to be competitive, particularly on the Pure and Progressive models. 

Mercedes-Benz will be able to set more of a premium on its range-topping X350d Power variant for those that want a truly premium ute.

 

Not just a Nissan

While the X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara platform just about everything on it has been changed.

It’s easier to list what hasn’t been changed than what has and these include four-cylinder drive train, the side glass, internal door frames, some switch gear, key fobs and other minor details.

All sheetmetal is unique, the front and rear screens are wider, the axles are wider and include disc brakes on the rear, the interior and the suspension are all Benz’s work.

 

The V6 Fix

The top of the range X350d won’t be available until mid-2018 and it wasn’t available for us to drive on the launch. Benz did however have a couple of them at hand to go for a ride along in with the engineers behind the wheel.

As you would expect, the 190kW/550Nm 3.0-L V6 gives the ute a massive boost in performance and the X-Class hustled along the closed road course at a speed no one would comfortably drive at under normal conditions.

The V6 is much smoother than the 4-cyclinder in terms of NVH even at full noise and the added performance really showed the potential of the chassis at fast pace.

Again, only a side-by-side drive with the V6 Amarok will reveal the better ute at this top end of the market but it is sure to be a fun test.

 

TRY THESE

Toyota Hilux

The long-time crowd favourite is still one of the best 1-tonne utes on the market. Strong, capable and reliable, the Toyota Hilux is a 4x4 ute for all occasions.

With an extensive model range, huge dealer support around the nation, and a sprightly 2.8-liter diesel engine that was only added a couple of years ago, the Hilux deserves its popularity either as a workhorse, family car or recreational 4x4 vehicle.

Ford Ranger

The Ranger has tackled the Hilux in terms of popularity in recent times and is on its way to being Australia’s top selling 4x4 vehicles in 2017.

Its key attractions are its truck-like styling and equally truck-like 3.2-liter 5-cylinder diesel engine.

Any ute with a bigger than a three-liter engine has mass appeal these days but those options are dwindling.

The Ford Ranger delivers performance, accommodation and customisation in droves.

Expect a refreshed Ranger line up around the middle of next year with the high performance Raptor model highly anticipated.

Volkswagen Amarok

It might be one of the oldest 4x4 utes on the market but it remains one of the best.

Volkswagen Amarok has the widest, most accommodating cabin and tray in the class and with the V6 diesel engine it delivers the best performance, at least until the X350d drops.

Its wide track and well-tuned suspension package means it rides and handles better than anything else available.

The Amarok has a European feel to its fit, finish and quality which greatly differentiates it from the mostly Thai-built, Japanese competitors.

 

SPECS

Engine            2298cc I4 diesel, 16-valves DOHC

Power             140kW at 3750 rpm

Torque            450Nm at 1500–2500 rpm

Transmission   7-speed automatic transmission

Suspension

Front               Double wishbone front axle, coil springs

Rea                 Rear multi-link live axle, coil springs

Brakes             Four wheel ventilated disc brakes

Steering           Hydraulic rack and pinion power steering

Wheels             17, 18 or 19-inch with 255 tyres

Price                TBA

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